Schools for Religious and Linguistic Minorities
Although the resolutions taken at the 1864 Quebec conference placed education within the provinces’ jurisdiction, the federal government guaranteed the minority educational rights that then existed in Canada East (Lower Canada; present-day Quebec) and Canada West (Upper Canada; present-day Ontario). In 1871 the New Brunswick House of Assembly introduced a bill to establish a non-denominational school system that would be funded by a universal school tax. The Roman Catholic minority, consisting mostly of Acadians as well as the Irish, wanted public money for their separate schools and therefore opposed the bill. Among those who fought against the legislation was the mha for Westmorland, Pierre-Amand LANDRY:
“Landry’s political career began at a time when controversy over school reform was precipitating unprecedented ethnic and religious conflicts and driving the Acadians in New Brunswick to defend their interests publicly. During the election campaign Landry had denounced the plan of George Edwin
“In April 1871 the New Brunswick assembly began studying a bill to create a system of public schools funded by the state through a new universal school tax. A month later a provision was added to the text, stipulating that the schools governed by it would be non-denominational. Despite the opposition of the Roman Catholic clergy, mhas, and press, the Common Schools Act was passed by a large Protestant majority. The Roman Catholics, most of whom were Acadians, refused to pay the school tax, even under duress; they sought the help of the federal government, but it decided not to intervene [see John Costigan]. School reform became the issue in the 1874 election campaign. Appealing to the English-speaking Protestant majority for support to prevent the Roman Catholics from getting enough power to change the law, the government won an overwhelming victory. Landry was one of those who lost their seats.”
In Manitoba, the Act of 1870 that brought the province into confederation contained guarantees for separate schools [see The Red River Rebellion and the Creation of Manitoba, 1868–70]. Twenty years later, however, the provincial government, heeding the wishes of the English-speaking Protestant majority, effectively froze out separate schools from public funding [see The Manitoba School Question]. A compromise was reached in 1896 between Premier Thomas GREENWAY and Prime Minister Wilfrid LAURIER [see The Election Campaign of 1896 and the Manitoba School Crisis; and The Laurier–Greenway Agreement (1896)]. The agreement would be abrogated in 1916 by the Manitoba government of Tobias Crawford NORRIS.
In 1912 Ontario’s Conservative premier, Sir James Pliny WHITNEY, introduced “Circular of Instructions 17” – known as Regulation 17. It limited French instruction in bilingual schools to the first two years of schooling:
“The regulation generated an exceedingly divisive battle between, on the one side, the government and the bulk of Ontario’s English-speaking residents, including Catholics, and, on the other, many of the province’s French-speaking minority plus the francophones and press of Quebec.… The government was convinced that it was doing the best thing possible for the children of Franco-Ontarians and that it was moving to correct a deplorable situation. As premier, Whitney could not understand the aspirations of French Canadians or the anger the new rules produced. After a year of protests, walk-outs by pupils, and refusals to comply, the government retreated in 1913: for the pupil who had not sufficiently mastered English by the end of the first form, French could remain the language of instruction. But the damage had been done and aroused French Canadians would cite Regulation 17 as an instance of English Canadian oppression for years to come [see Philippe Landry].”
To read more about the debates over schools for religious and linguistic minorities after confederation, consult the following lists of biographies.